Voila! Apprenticeships shape the tastiest chefs

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Marco Pierre White

In my opinion, if you want to be a chef, or learn any craft inside out, an apprenticeship is the way to do it. Knowing that someone has "served his time" as an apprentice is worth more than any certificate from catering college.

My apprenticeship lasted seven years. I went from the Hotel St George in Harrogate to The Box Tree in Ilkley (the first restaurant in England to win two Michelin stars) and then to London and Le Gavroche, followed by a stint at Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons.

I come from the old world of gastronomy, neckerchiefs and silver service. When I was 16, I took delivery of a large salmon worth twice my monthly salary.

First rule was never be late. It was a hard slog; 20-hour days were normal. Another rule was keep your head down and work. Apprenticeships are about learning your craft, your trade. It's essentially a passport to a future career, as once you have it, you can go anywhere.

I have just finished filming a short clip about the value of apprenticeships. In the film I am portrayed as a burger van man, in a desolate car park in the back-end of nowhere. It's a "what Marco might have been without his apprenticeship" scenario, a parallel life.

Learning your craft takes years of practice. Perfection is many things done well. Whether you're spending the day in the sink, chopping bones for stock at 6am, or freezing your manhood off in the larder, you have to stay focused and disciplined.

It can be very easy to throw in the towel and walk away as an apprentice chef. But if you can hack it, you'll develop confidence and life skills as well as technical prowess. The common elements are discipline, consistency and respect.

When a head chef is screaming and shouting at you, remember, it's nothing personal, just service. But in any kitchen, the most poisonous sauce is the chef's ego.

When I was a young man, there was no such thing as a celebrity chef. Young boys and girls went to work to learn their trade, often from very humble beginnings. It's always a pleasure to meet young apprentices who want to join our trade, but they must recognise what it is that motivates them. For me, it was obsession with food. These days, I'm glad to say it's more of a passion.

The 15 apprentices I met at the end of last month all want to go somewhere different. You can't teach them a lot about food in one morning, but you can take an interest in them, share your story, and listen to theirs. I'm a big believer in real-life experience.

No catering college can, on its own, provide the necessary preparation for life as a chef. Most apprenticeships do include a day release to college, but what future employers look for is evidence of performance in the work place.

One of the apprentices I met is working at McDonalds to supplement his income as an haute cuisine apprentice chef. People may scoff, but it runs an excellent apprenticeship scheme, very structured, very hierarchical. And as an apprentice chef, you need to learn punctuality, organisation and awareness of your environment, the most essential ingredients in any kitchen.

Marco Pierre White launched a new viral video advertising campaign for apprenticeships last month. At the event, 15 catering apprentices from around the country met him and watched demonstrations by other chefs in his restaurant, Wheeler's of St James's.

  • Marco Pierre White, Chef and star of Hell's Kitchen.

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